Engineers Who Engage: The UC Davis Center for Geotechnical Modeling

Published on November 5, 2020


The NHERI UC Davis facility weaves social media into their lab community

As visitors can attest, the NHERI large centrifuge facility at UC Davis has a welcoming, congenial atmosphere. The faculty, staff and students at the Center for Geotechnical Modeling work hard, and they support each other’s successes.

A clear goal. “We use Facebook to help build a sense of community among our user-base by sharing posts that celebrate major events and milestones,” says facility PI Ross Boulanger. “Everyone who has ever worked at the facility enjoys seeing our short updates on current projects, research teams, visitors, and staff.” Their Facebook followers upvote and share the posts.

For Boulanger, a surprising benefit of the Facebook page is its archival collection of wonderful photographs and the documentation of milestones. The CGM Facebook page functions as the lab’s public photo album. Lab researchers regularly return to find images for reports and presentations.

Engaging users. Because the goal of the CGM Facebook page is sharing successes with friends and colleagues, it’s easy to persuade lab members to post, follow and share posts.

“People are always excited when they complete a major milestone or when there is a fun personal event. So when we ask someone to celebrate by posting photos, they are usually happy to do so,” Boulanger says.

Sharing tasks. CGM faculty and staff share responsibility for maintaining the Facebook page, so the task of posting doesn’t fall to a single person. “We nudge each other to make postings periodically in cooperation with our visitors and users,” facility co-PI Dan Wilson says. “Sometimes our CGM staff will nudge a group or make the posting on behalf of others.”

Although it might seem daunting at first, once posting becomes a habit, it is gratifying. “If you view the Facebook page as a spot where you can post pictures and document milestones — and use them later for presentations — you are more likely to keep the page alive,” Wilson adds.

Setting expectations. For researchers focusing on complex engineering problems, the benefits of social media aren’t always obvious. And the potential work involved in social media can seem time-consuming and distracting. So at the UC Davis facility, they decided to make social media a way to celebrate their community of users — past and present.

The NHERI UC Davis facility has found an effective, sustainable way to communicate their research. Says Boulanger: “We kept our scope and expectations simple. We focused on making our Facebook page an enjoyable way to build a sense of community among current and past users. This way, we keep it enjoyable and beneficial at the same time.”

Be sure to visit the CGM on Facebook — and join their virtual community.